Moving to the Country
Moving to the country can be a dream for some people and for others it is an necessity – marrying into a rural community, job relocation or simply for the health benefits of the country air. If you are thinking of moving to the country there are many factors to take into account and I hope that this article will give you some information and insight.
The Isolation Paradox
Properties can be located quite far away from services such as schools, shops, pubs and health care facilities. There are no regular public transportation systems in rural Ireland with elderly inhabitants often relying on the kindness of their neighbors.
In the city, people live within a few feet of each other yet rarely know their neighbors, in the country – you live miles away from each other yet everyone knows your business and knows how to conduct it better than you! Twitching curtains and nosey neighbors are part and parcel of country living.
You are geographically isolated in the country however you are only as isolated as you choose to be – neighbors in isolated areas tend to band together and look out for each other. Times have changed and we are long gone from the days of leaving the back door open, people do take measures to secure their properties with initiatives such as Eircom Phone Watch and the Community Alert schemes. It may appear that a lone house in the heart of the countryside is an easy target but according to statistics rural living has a lower associated crime level:
(Source: Central Statistics Office, 2006)
Rural Ireland is a stunning place in the summer, when you are on holidays and free to explore the roaming countryside in your own good time, stopping off to admire the scenery, walking on the beach, long lazy dinners and the craic into the night are heaven sent. However for full time inhabitants the spring and summer is also known as ‘silly season’, combine-harvesters, tractors, animal transportation and campervans dominate the narrow country roads. Walkers and cyclists also make negotiating country roads a challenge. Parking spaces in the usually quiet villages become scarce when you want to pick up a carton of milk. Murphy’s Law definitely prevails in the countryside – for whenever you are under pressure to be somewhere you will certainly meet a herd of cows or sheep on the road.
Autumn brings a blaze of color with the golds, yellows, oranges and browns taking court from the luscious greens and blues of summer. The scent of autumnal fruits fill the air - blackberries, raspberries and apples. The nights begin to shorten, the winds get a little colder and more frequent and children are wrapped up like mummies as they brave the elements for school each morning. However it is my favorite season in the country, the color, the fresh, frosty mornings and the rekindling of the open fires have an intoxicating allure.
Winter in the country may come as a shock to newcomers. Urban living can isolate you from the seasons with street lighting providing an artificial buffer against the closing in of the nights. Many town and city dwellers are unprepared for the darkness of the depth of night in the country. The close proximity of other dwellings in urban settings also acts as a buffer against adverse weather conditions, living on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean or in the middle of rolling hills is beautiful in the sun but exposes you to driving winds, rain and frost when the weather turns. Country dwellers are often committed to their homes, as driving conditions become dangerous and roads become impassible due to flooding or frost. Winter weather in the country is a very different beast to live with than in an urban setting.
Spring brings light back into the countryside, and chutes of life begin to appear above and below the fields. It is a beautiful time to live in the country as the fresh smells of cut grass begin to waft, lambs are being born and the darkness lifts. However, spring showers are unexpected and triumphant when you are caught out in a tee shirt during a blessed sunny spell and frost still nips around the edges of most mornings.
Country living forces you to respect and live according to the seasons – despite our erratic weather. You don’t have to be a farmer to feel that instinctive shift of consciousness as the summer gives way to autumn and the seasonal cycle continues on in its unyielding path.
Social life in the country revolves to a large extent around the local pubs with music at the weekends, quizzes and race nights. Access to rural pubs is becoming difficult as a result of the clamp down on drink driving. Taxis are quite scarce during peak socializing times and there are no alternatives unless you have a very benevolent teetotal neighbor willing to act chauffeur. If you have children it can be difficult to arrange babysitting and you are obliged to bring the babysitter home afterwards if they don’t have their own transportation.
Other opportunities for social life include – local committees for sports, women and activities although their availability varies from area to area. As a general rule, social life in the country outside of pubs revolves around the family – children, weddings, christenings, birthdays etc… although – many of those celebrations revolve around pubs!
Opportunities for work can be quite scarce in the country and the threat of unemployment is never far from your door. The boom and recession has left an abundance of trades people and a ‘race to the bottom’ pricing situation for that sector, professional jobs in small offices are snapped up quickly and generally locally sourced. The agricultural sector has also taken a serious battering recently; many forms of grant aid have been withdrawn making it a difficult business to be in.
Many people have to commute to nearby towns and cities for work, negotiating poor road conditions, slow obstructing traffic (tractors, campervans and trucks) and tailbacks. Telecommuting and working from home are on the rise but you have to make sure that there is adequate broadband coverage in your area before deciding on this route. Eircom broadband have only begun covering my local area in the past two months.
On the up side, broadband internet access is improving and this is opening up a whole new area of opportunities for making money from home, from E-bay to Elance there are opportunities online for most people willing to invest time and effort. Also many farmers have moved with the times, diversifying their farms into organic produce, bee keeping, alternative livestock (Ostrich, deer, Alpacas and Lamas etc…), holiday homes and alternative energy to name a few. For more information on farming diversification Teagasc has some excellent ideas and guides available on the Teagsc website
Growing up in the country is a liberating experience for children, the freedom and fresh air breaths life into them. They are closer to nature and generally grow up more innocent than city children without being over protected.
However, raising children in the country is not as convenient as the city – transportation to schools is determined by catchment areas so unless you want to drive them back and forth every day – they must attend their appointed local school. Child minders and crèches usually have waiting lists, extra curricular activities are far more restricted eg: football/hurling for boys, maybe camogie for girls, badminton and maybe some martial arts in a nearby town.
Another consideration is safety, there are always dangers associated with living in the country – rivers, busy roads, electric fencing, uncovered wells, farm machinery and animals are to name a few however the dangers of the city are far greater in the long run as shown in the crime figures table above.
Needless to say there are characters in the city but a move to the country provides you with a fresh set of equally colourful characters – from social butterflies and gossips to cranky old men and reclusives there’s one for every occasion. Most inhabitants keep to themselves, help their neighbours when it is required and partake in the activities when they are expected to keep the peace. There are also those who organise the parish, they rally the troops so to speak.
Even though the country may seem a pretty laid back place – there are some social orders or norms that seem to crop up in every parish – people and things tend to be put into boxes and labled pretty well – ‘This is the way its done around here’. Quiet manipulation of these norms is the route to success if you intend to slot into a country community peacefully.
Country folk can be clannish initially, with some eggs harder to crack than others but most people will go out of their way to help a neighbour and as soon as you have become part of the community – you have a home for life!
I hope I have given you a good outline of both the pro’s and con’s of living in the country. It can be a very difficult transition for people who might be used of large cities but like most things there are scales of emersion into this way of life. If you are from a large urban center you may want to consider a cottage on the outskirts of a town that has a reasonable garden, or a cottage located quiet close to a village before moving to that picturesque thatch peering over the Irish seas in solitary confinement.
I hope this has been helpful – if you have any comments or points you’d like to add to this article please post them below.